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Soccer Rules: FIFA Laws of the Game

Soccer Rules as Established by FIFA

FIFA frequently publishes an extensive 140 page guide called "Laws of the Game", which describes the 17 laws of modern soccer in great detail. This page will breakdown and simplify them for you.

Some, such as the offside, aren't as straightforward as you may think. Nonetheless, you need to know all the soccer rules in effect, in order to become a better player.

17 laws? That seems easy enough.

For the most part, they are. The laws are basic enough, and they are flexible in that they allow modification if the circumstances call for it. This is especially true for youth soccer rules.

Click any link to be taken directly to the associated rule.

Law 1 – Field of Play

The correct soccer field layout for the field of play is regulated; however there is no universal size, except for international matches. The touch lines (lines running end to end), can be anywhere from 100-130 yards (90-120 metres) and the goal lines (running behind the goal, across the width of the field) can be anywhere from 50-100 yards (45 to 90 metres).

Law 2 – The Ball

Of course, there wouldn't be much of a game without a soccer ball, and there are actually a few different sizes available. Rules state however that the ball used must have a circumference of 27-28 inches and weigh 14-16oz.

Check out the soccer ball page for more information on the different balls available.

Law 3 – The Number of Players

According to soccer rules, each game should have 10 players plus 1 goal keeper on the field, for a total of 11 players. Furthermore, a match cannot start with fewer than seven players.

International matches you'll notice, have a limit of 3 substitutions, including goal keepers, but the rules do differ for other leagues.

All players who may see action must have their names submitted to the referee before the match. Most leagues use a game sheet for just such a purpose.

Law 4 – The Players' Equipment

Basic equipment for each player includes a jersey, shorts, socks, shin guards, and of course footwear.

Each team must wear different colours, generally one dark and one light. In addition, the goal keepers must also wear colours that distinguish themselves from their team mates.

Interested in learning more about soccer gear?

Law 5 – The Referee

One of the most thankless jobs out there, a referee is required for all soccer matches. The referee's job is to enforce the laws of the game while maintaining order and ensuring fair play.

Law 6 – The Assistant Referees

The assistants or "lines man" is positioned on either side of the touchlines and are generally used to determine when the ball is out of play, which team is entitled to the ball for a throw-in, corner, or free-kick, as well as calling offenses when they have a better view of the action than the referee.

Law 7 – The Duration of the Match

Most matches consist of two 45 minute halves, with a half time intermission not exceeding 15 minutes. Of course this also varies according to the league you're playing in, with younger players generally playing shorter halves.

Current soccer rules state that any agreement to shorten the length of the game must be made before the match begins and must be agreed to by both teams.

One more interesting thing to keep in mind here is that unlike other sports, soccer rules stipulate that the referee should make an allowance for any stoppages through injury time, and add this time to the end of every half, as the clock is not stopped in soccer.

Law 8 – The Start and Restart of Play

Each match is started by a coin toss with the winner determining which goal they will attack, and the other team taking the kick off.

Dropped balls are used to restart play for any reason not outlined in the soccer rules listed in the FIFA Laws of the Game. You may see this often in amateur play where the referee will stop the game for injury.

Law 9 – The Ball In and Out of Play

The two important things to note here is that the ball is considered out of play any time it entirely crosses either the touch or goal lines, or the referee blows the play dead. At any other time, the ball is in play.

Law 10 – The Method of Scoring

For a goal to count, the whole ball needs to cross over the goal line, between the goal posts and under the crossbar. Of course, no soccer rules can be infringed by the scoring team for the goal to stand. This law also deals with things such as away goals, extra time, and shootouts.

Law 11 – Offside

The offside rule is one of the most confusing in the entire game. The main thing to keep in mind is that to be offside you need to be closer to the goal line than both the ball and second last opponent, including the goalie. In addition, only when you are part of the active play are you deemed offside.

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct

There are several things you can do to foul the opposition and most are very obvious. Law 12 outlines the various fouls, disciplinary sanctions, as well as the difference between a direct and indirect free kick.

Keep in mind that any foul committed within the penalty area will result in a penalty kick.

Law 13 – Free Kicks

Law 13 concerns itself with free kick rules. In soccer, there are both direct and indirect free kicks awarded, depending on the offence. A direct kick may be kicked directly into the opponent goal, while an indirect kick must be touched by another player before it can be struck into the goal.

Players must also give a minimum of 10 yards of space from the ball until it is touched.

Law 14 – The Penalty Kick

Any fouls committed within the penalty area which would otherwise result in a direct free kick are instead awarded a penalty shot which is taken according to penalty kick rules.

This kick is taken from the penalty spot, with all other players standing outside of the penalty area at least 10 yards from the penalty mark.

Law 15 – The Throw-In

The throw-in is used to restart play when the ball has crossed one of the touch lines. Make sure to keep your feet down, use both hands, and throw the ball from behind and over your head and not into the ground.

According to throw in rules, not properly taking a throw will result in an infraction and the throw being awarded to the opposing team.

Law 16 – The Goal Kick

A goal kick is used to restart play whenever the attacking team send the ball across the goal line and a goal has not been scored.

Goal kick rules state that the ball can be kicked from anywhere inside the goal area by any member of the defending team and is only considered to be in play once it exits the penalty area.

Law 17 – The Corner Kick

On the other hand, any time the ball is sent across the goal line without a goal being scored and the ball was last touched by the defending team, a corner kick is awarded.

Corner kick rules state that a corner kick should be taken from the corner arc closet from where the ball was put out of play and the ball is considered in play as soon as it is touched.

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